Space Angel Crash Lands!!!
The Origin of Futurama?
Ah yes, it’s that special time of year, when decrepit ghosts and goblins and pretty princesses roam the Earth in search of delectable sugary treats (or brains, depending on your lore of choice). Oh woe is be to the poor fool who denies these mischievous devils their due of tooth rotting fun (or brains), for their home may soon be rife with foul smelling egg yolks and toiletries! It is in this misbegotten and horrific vein that I introduce today’s entry, a tale of the “Space Angel”.
Running for a couple of years in the early 1960s, this “animated series” would feature short 5 minute episodes running once a day each weekday. Each episode would end in a cliffhanger, until Friday, when everything would be wrapped up in a neat little package. Of course I have “animated series” in quotation marks because… well, I’ll let you judge for yourself.
The show would feature 3 plucky comrades as they travel the space ways at the beckoning of their Chief, investigating strange phenomena and acting as general troubleshooters. Sounds exciting, yes? Let’s dive right in…
Yeah, Space Angel wears an eye-patch. So what? Wanna fight about it?
And today’s thrilling episode is entitled…
I guess you can figure out by the title why I picked this particular episode for October. After all, what’s more synonymous with Halloween than Crystal Meth – I mean Mace? Nothing, that’s what!
This being the early 1960s, and therefore a chauvinistic version of a utopian future, all females are obligated to wear muzzles while at work.
Oh, and red is the new blonde!
We find the crew of the rocket ship Starduster hard at work. Seems the Chief has sent them off to investigate some strange signals that have been interfering with earth broadcasts. Using the latest in 1960s sci-fi equipment including small, medium and large blinking lights, a… periscope? Really? And the obligatory mouth covering microphone (so we don’t have to animate mouths) – the crew triangulates the signal and sets down on a remote planet.
And what a brave and intelligent crew the Starduster is filled with. We have…
The merry crew of the Starduster! From left to right we have Taurus, the portly gunner/engineer; Captain Scott “Space Angel” McCloud; Crystal Mace, electronics expert!
In this pose we can see the crew enjoying their favorite pastime, staring blankly while biting down on their muzzles. Guess they aren’t just for girls after all!
And wait a second… Crystal Mace is a person, not a drug? Who knew?
So I presume that, like NASA, the Chief would select the epitome of Earth specimens to be sent off into space to investigate strange and dangerous occurrences that could threaten life as we know it. After all, when faced with certain death it’s important to be in top physical shape to improve your chances for survival.
And so the Chief has sent a crew that includes an overweight Scot and a one-eyed pilot.
Yes folks, in the far flung future THAT’S the best Earth has to offer! Man, we’re so screwed…
Before I continue, an aside. Anybody out there remember watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien when he’d superimpose someone else’s mouth on a still photograph of a celebrity, and then proceed to have that celebrity seemingly say weird and funny things? Well guess how mouths were animated on this show…
Captain Scott McCloud – either shouting orders or chewing on some caramel, I can’t decide.
The brave crew of the Starduster prepare to disembark. In order for you to fully appreciate the drama inherent in an episode of Space Angel, please enjoy the video clip below. Simply click on the picture to watch the show in Media Player and apologies in advance to any members of the fairer sex out there…
Click on Captain McCloud to thrill to the adventures of the Starduster crew!
Okay, so, there’s a ghost boy on this planet, and no, it isn’t Casper. See, if it was Casper, then this would be interesting – and the word “interesting” doesn’t belong with a cartoon of this caliber. Bizarre, maybe, but not interesting.
To continue the recap, Crystal lets this little ghost-boy just school her in math and launch the Starduster without actually lifting a finger to try and stop him! Once again, yes, this is the absolute BEST Earth had to offer. I like how Crystal, who’s sitting in a modern rocket ship, decides to do her expense calculations by pad and paper. In the 1960s version of the future Earth has mastered space travel, but the secrets of the electronic calculator continue to elude the human race! Long live the slide-rule!
And hey, did you spot the edge of the animation cell as Taurus and Scott jet-pack out of the Starduster? And did you notice how, as the door to the Starduster opens everyone is wearing a helmet, then suddenly all the helmets are gone? See, if it was me stepping out of my space ship and onto a harsh, desolate and unexplored planet, I’d like to keep my oxygen tank. Sure, there could be oxygen on the planet – but there could also be lots of other gases too.
Taurus’ comment of “This place smells dead!” tells you what kind of gases I’m talking about.
Both Scott and Taurus are dumbfounded by this strange turn of events, with Scott immediately blaming Crystal, “What’s she doing? She’s flown the Starduster before!”
Having 2 working eyes, Taurus is able to spy the speeding Starduster much sooner than Scott.
Seriously, what’s Scott looking at? It’s like he’s staring at me and that’s just creepy.
Scott and Taurus manage to duck just in time as a rogue Starduster passes overhead. I could make a joke here about rockets entering dark, damp tunnels, but I’m going to take the high road and let you use your imagination…
After their close call, both Scott and Taurus find themselves in even more hot water as they are suddenly (somewhat) surrounded by ghosts!!!
Hoping for leniency, Taurus does his best Scott McCloud impression. Dude, that’s just not PC.
Taurus and Scott are put on trial with “Hanging Judge” Sheety presiding, and for the prosecution… a member of the KKK apparently.
This image effects one those “You know this cartoon is pretty old when…” moments.
And kids, if you don’t know what the KKK is, look it up. Suffice it to say that things weren’t looking good for Scott and Taurus.
The charge, kidnapping! Seems the ghosts think Scott and Taurus are responsible for shanghaiing of one of their own, a young, impressionable lad with the name of Humphrey. Yet both Scott and Taurus are there and Humphrey is nowhere to be found… I don’t really like where this is going – it’s becoming way more Law & Order than I bargained for. What do they think Taurus and Scott did to poor Humphrey anyway? He’s a GHOST, what’s the worst that could happen to him? Heck, how do you even kidnap a ghost? Well, it is the future, full of wonders like pads of paper, pencils and blinking lights, so anything is possible, I guess.
Scott and Taurus cop a plea; if they manage to return Humphrey unharmed then the ghosts won’t eat their brains (or something like that). Of course now Scott figures out that maybe, just maybe, the Starduster’s rogue trip wasn’t just Crystal’s fault and that maybe the ship has a stowaway.
On cue the Starduster lands, the doors open to reveal…
Why is Crystal holding her side like that? What did Humphrey do to her, the twisted fiend!!!
After some coaxing Crystal managed to get Humphrey to let her land the ship. Happy to have Humphrey back, the ghosts let Scott and Taurus go free. Before leaving Scott asks the ghosts about the strange transmissions that originated from their planet (remember those transmissions? the reason the Starduster was sent to the planet in the first place? yeah, me neither). The ghosts say that the signals were created so that people would notice them and once more believe in ghosts, but they promise to stop if the Starduster crew spreads the word that ghosts are real.
So, to recap the logic here – the ghosts decide the best way to get humanity to believe in their existence is by jamming humanity’s radio transmissions. That was their brilliant plan, instead of just, you know, showing up on Earth and spooking people.
Man they’re dumb. Who’s going to believe a one-eyed pilot, obese clod and ditzy dame when they come out of a rocket ship screaming about ghosts on a far off planet? Heck, most people would probably just laugh and say the ghosts the crew saw were just a mass hallucination brought on by a lack of oxygen – as throughout this episode the crew doesn’t once bother to wear a space helmet!
And thus ends another thrilling adventure of the Space Angel.
And yet I wonder…
In the year 1999 Matt Groening introduced the world to Futurama. Set 1000 years in the future the cartoon universe of Futurama includes many of those classic science-fiction elements and images that people have grown to love such as rocket ships, weird aliens, doomsday weapons, “old school” robots and more! All this, wrapped in a contemporary package has made Futurama a cult favorite, and yet I have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Matt Groening didn’t specifically have Space Angel on the brain when he dreamed up Futurama. The similarities are uncanny as you have…
Planet Express Ship and the Starduster, both pointy, gaudy colored rocket ships that can travel from planet to planet… and each ship has a primary crew of 3 people!
Captain Leela Turanga and Captain Scott McCloud, both with serious visual impairments that would prevent them from legally driving a 1979 Gremlin, yet somehow both fully licensed to operate an interstellar space ship! I guess there are fewer things to crash into in outer space…
Philip J. Fry and Crystal Mace. Both of them exhibit limited mental abilities yet somehow each manages to obtain an important position on their respective ships! And in each case they seem to have feelings for their respective captains… hmm…
And what space crew doesn’t include a lovable, catch-phrase spouting ethnic-minority robot? Bender, everyone’s favorite Hispanic robot, has his patented “Kiss my shiny metal ass!” While that’s a good one, who can forget that blustering Scot Taurus’ memorable “This place smells dead!” Seriously, try that one tomorrow at work or school, and within a week it’ll sweep the nation! And yeah, Taurus technically isn’t a robot, but given his gross obesity, he certainly moves like one!
And of course there must be the crotchety old man in a white laboratory coat who sends the crew on their ludicrously dangerous missions, ably represented by Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth on Futurama and the venerable Chief on Space Angel!
Why’s the Chief got his mouth open like that? And why does the Professor have his finger pointed up like that? (SHUDDER)
And there you have it. If Space Angel wasn’t the main inspiration for Futurama, it sure as heck had to be on the list somewhere, wouldn’t you agree?
I think I’ll call it a day. Take care!